Harper looking to expand scope of new building to include University Center

  • A sketch shows an earlier version of a proposed renovated and expanded student center at Harper College. But after long-awaited state funds were awarded this month, Harper's new plan calls for an entirely new building on campus that would also include the school's University Center.

    A sketch shows an earlier version of a proposed renovated and expanded student center at Harper College. But after long-awaited state funds were awarded this month, Harper's new plan calls for an entirely new building on campus that would also include the school's University Center. Courtesy of Harper College

 
 
Posted8/17/2020 5:30 AM

After the surprise announcement that Harper College is getting a long-awaited state grant, officials are now scrambling to submit updated building plans by midweek for a proposed one-stop student center -- a project two decades in the making.

But they're also moving to expand the scope of the original project in hopes of gaining some construction efficiencies while tapping into new referendum dollars. That approach would combine the student center -- which consolidates the admissions, registrar, financial aid and business offices -- with a new University Center, where students can complete bachelor's degrees by way of Harper's partnerships with local four-year schools.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"It still has to be aligned to the original (plans), but serving today's student," said college President Avis Proctor. "We believe with the dollars the state has given us, the monies we have set aside and the sale of bonds, we're ready to get that project on the way."

In total, the new building is estimated to cost $83 million, with the state contributing $42 million, Harper making a $14 million match, earmarking another $9 million in its current budget, and paying the rest through referendum dollars.

Voters agreed in November 2018 to continue a tax increase that was otherwise due to expire to help fund $180 million in campus upgrades over the next decade, including a proposed stand-alone University Center. A smaller version of the center, which manages degree programs with Northern Illinois University, DePaul University and Roosevelt University, is currently located within Building D on campus.

Now contemplated as a new building on a spot still to be determined, the student center originally was planned as a renovation and expansion of one of the oldest buildings on the Palatine campus. In fact, work on underground utilities had already begun in the summer of 2015 when the state budget expired and so began a historic stalemate, marked by a feud between then-Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan.

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Without the promised state funds, the construction site was sealed up and the project left in limbo.

When a state budget was approved two years later, the money was appropriated, but never released.

Then came Gov. J.B. Pritzker's announcement last week that Harper was chief among 15 community colleges to receive a combined $103 million in state funds for campus infrastructure projects. The money comes from the state's $45 billion Rebuild Illinois program that Pritzker championed after taking office in 2018.

Harper officials say securing funds for the student center has been their top state legislative priority.

School officials have brought lawmakers on tours of the 50-year-old Building A, held meetings, placed phone calls, and sent emails and letters. They pointed to state Sen. Ann Gillespie, whose district includes Harper, as well as Sen. Cristina Castro and Rep. Fred Crespo, as helping secure the funds during statehouse negotiations.

What wasn't included in the state funding award was $4.37 million originally promised for the college's hospitality program. A committee is putting together an updated campus master plan that could determine whether the current kitchen should be updated or a kitchen could be built somewhere else on campus.

Harper officials are working to submit an updated scope of work to the state's Capital Development Board by Wednesday so it can be considered by the panel at its December or January meeting. The board would manage the project and oversee the expenditures of funds.

A groundbreaking is targeted for next summer or early fall.

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